Okay, I admit it. I was one of those people back in 2011 who thought the Samsung Galaxy Note was a joke. Who would ever want a phone with a 5.3 inch display? How dumb would you look holding it up to your face to make a phone call? I even quipped that Samsung would have to start selling a new line of clothing with larger pockets for Note users. (Foxtrot has since stolen my joke!)
That’s just WAY too big for a phone, isn’t it? Apparently it isn’t for many people as the Galaxy Note went on to be sell millions of units and the era of the “phablet” was upon us. The Note doesn’t sell in numbers like the iPhones or Galaxy S phones (which now sport a 5.1″ display) but it does well enough that the fourth iteration (cleverly named the Note 4) with a 5.7″ screen is to ship in October.
I don’t see too many Galaxy Notes in use, but I do see a lot of large screen Android phones like the Galaxy S5 and HTC One. Whenever I see a Galaxy Note in person at a store I often wonder if I was an Android user, would really want one of these? The large screen is beautiful and quite tempting but is it too big?
When Apple introduced the 2014 model iPhones earlier in September they, for the first time, gave users a choice of screen size. You can buy the iPhone 6 with a 4.7 inch screen or the iPhone 6 Plus with a 5.5 inch screen. As an iPhone user eligible for an upgrade, I now had to answer my hypothetical question earlier. My first thought was that I’d never want the Plus. It’s just too big. Then I started reading about it and the extra features it offers over its smaller sibling. After way too much thought on the matter, I pre-ordered an iPhone 6 Plus.
I’ve been living with the iPhone 6 Plus for about a week. Here are my experiences and opinions of the device.
Why the 6 Plus?
So why choose a 6 Plus over the 6? Other than the larger screen, the advantages of the 6 Plus are:
- Higher resolution screen (more pixels per inch)
- Longer battery life
- Better camera
- Enhanced applications in landscape mode
The longer battery life was the big reason for me to choose the 6 Plus. Battery life on my iPhone 5 with iOS 8 is noticeably worse than with iOS 7. It wouldn’t come close to making it through a day anymore. I see many people using iPhones in Mophie cases to extend the battery life. So, I figured instead of buying a battery case that will add cost and weight to the device anyway, I might as well just get the 6 Plus and have the benefits of the having a bigger screen too.
Besides, big is relative. The 6 Plus isn’t that big compared to older devices and some people even think the 4.7″ iPhone 6 is too big!
What I Like
After living with the phone for a week and putting it through its paces, here are the things I really like about the phone.
The big frame of the 6 Plus gives room for a bigger battery. It’s 2159 mAh for those of you who care about numbers. That’s over 50% more capacity than the iPhone 6 and 90% more than the iPhone 5s.
In practical terms, I’m getting all day use with plenty of room to spare. I use my phone a lot and mostly on cellular and I am seeing 25% left by 11:30pm. My iPhone 5 would need a recharge by midday. Not having to worry about the battery dying is really a delight.
The iPhone 6 Plus’s screen is really beautiful! Text and images look just great. There is more room to see web pages, emails, tweets, and anything else you’re looking at. Video is wonderful as it is a true HD display (although I do wish they added a second speaker for stereo).
After setting up the device and playing with it for about 30 minutes I grabbed my old iPhone 5 and was really taken aback by how small it felt. Tiny is probably a better word. It was one of those “how did I live with this for so long?” moments. (Here’s where the Android fans laugh hysterically).
iOS 8 provides an architecture allowing apps to support the different screen sizes. Apps that do not use this are automatically scaled up to fit the entire screen. It is sort of like running an iPhone app on an iPad but without the black bars. Many reviewers have complained that the scaled apps look fuzzy, but I’ve been quite impressed how good they look on the 6 Plus. There are apps I used that I didn’t even know were scaled until I opened the keyboard at which point it is obvious as the keys are noticeably larger. The text isn’t fuzzy like I feared it would be. That may be a function of the higher resolution display of the 6 Plus so scaled apps may look worse on the iPhone 6.
Applications are already being updated to take advantage of the display and are much better with more room. I can see much more on the display without it looking crowded or with tiny text. I expect other apps will be updated in the coming months. Many new apps that claim they “support iOS 8″ do not support the higher resolution displays so be aware. Some of the apps that do support the larger displays include Tweetbot (my favorite Twitter client), Evernote, Wunderlist, DayOne Journal, Twitter, Downcast, Week Cal, and Fantastical. Notably missing from this list is Facebook, Mailbox, and all of the Google apps.
I use my phone as a GPS for navigation in my car. The 5.5” screen is a huge upgrade in this regard. Most maps apps (including Google and Waze) display important information in small text making it very hard to read while driving, even when the phone is mounted on your windshield. Not a problem with the 6 Plus! I used Google maps this weekend and it was just great. Waze too. I was happy that my windshield mount was able to hold the big phone (although I did have to adjust it a bit). Neither Google Maps nor Waze support the larger displays but the scaled up versions work very well.
Many of Apple’s default apps display differently in landscape orientation on the 6 Plus which makes it more iPad-like. I really like what they did with Weather as I can see the whole day’s weather, the next 4 days, sunrise, sunset, chance of rain, and humidity all in one screen. Other apps use a split view such as Mail which shows a list of messages on the left and the selected message on the right. This makes the phone feel more like an iPad nano than a big iPhone.
Verizon smartphone users know that, due to Verizon’s cellular technology, you cannot get data over cellular while you are on a phone call. It can be very annoying if you need to look something up online for someone you are talking to on the phone. Voice over LTE (or VoLTE) uses the 4G LTE radio for both voice and data. Verizon just started supporting VoLTE on their network and the iPhones 6 and 6 Plus are compatible with it. VoLTE is not enabled by default on the iPhone. You have to change the value in Settings/Cellular/Enable LTE to “Voice and Data”. It seems to work just fine. I don’t notice any difference in voice quality or battery use. It will become a problem when I’m in an area without LTE coverage though. If that happens often enough I’ll just switch back.
What I Didn’t Like
Okay, so there’s lots to like here but a really big phone has its drawbacks. The 6 Plus has its share of those.
Bad for Pockets
It is just uncomfortable to carry around in a front pants pocket. The device fits just fine in my front pocket of a pair of slacks or jeans (it doesn’t stick out or anything like that), but you feel the phone with every step you take. Jeans are worse than slacks in this regard. You feel it while sitting especially while driving where you can’t do anything about it. I don’t think there is much to this whole “bendgate” controversy, but I could see if this thing were to bend it would be wearing jeans while driving. I’d strongly discourage keeping it in your back pocket if you want to keep the phone straight.
It is also difficult to pull it out of a pocket. The phone is longer so it takes longer to pull it out. This is noticeable and annoying. I’m waiting to hear about “iPhone elbow” afflicting people. Often you’re just trying to get something done (like answer a call or view a message) this just slows you from doing that.
I don’t know how anyone can carry this phone while exercising. Fitness tracking is supposed to be a key feature of iOS 8 and if you want to use it for that this probably isn’t the device for you.
Two Hands Required
Every review of this device that I have read has said that you need two hands to use it and, for the most part, that is true. Most operations really do require two hands because you just cannot reach the whole screen with your thumb on the hand holding the phone. I didn’t think that would be that big of a deal but it turned out to be as I started living with it. I couldn’t dial a phone number with one hand because I couldn’t reach all the numbers. I couldn’t turn on the flashlight while holding it in my right hand as the flashlight button is on the left of command center. The bottom line is that you will have to change your phone habits when using the 6 Plus. I don’t like the idea that I should have to conform to the device instead of the other way around.
I now realize why Android and Windows Phone devices have a fixed “back” button on the bottom of the screen. Most iOS apps have a back button in the upper left and having to reach up there is a stretch. The “reachability” feature is supposed to address this, but I have not found it very useful as it is often more awkward to double tap the home button than just reach. Actually, you can just swipe right from the left edge to do a “back” and that is what I found myself doing most of the time. This was added when the iPhone 5 was introduced for the same reason. Even this is a little more difficult on the 6 Plus as it is a far reach to the edge of the screen.
The 6 Plus has a special keyboard in landscape mode that adds extra keys on the left and right of the standard keyboard. Left and right arrow keys at last! But the phone is so wide that it is hard for me to reach the middle keys. I’d rather they had made the keys wider than added new ones. I rarely type in landscape so this isn’t that big of a deal for me but it could be to others who prefer landscape.
Holding the 6 Plus can be awkward for those of us who are not in the NBA. My four fingers do not wrap all the way around it as they do with earlier iPhones. My the index finger ends up supporting the back. I usually tuck the bottom corner of a phone into my palm, but that isn’t comfortable with this phone. It is hard to hold that way and it feels top heavy. This is part of the reason you cannot use it phone with one hand. You really need to hold it in the middle which requires using your other hand for tapping.
Big Screen Rotation
One feature of the 6 Plus is that the home screen (aka Springboard) rotates in landscape mode to have the dock on the right and the icons rearrange into a 6×4 grid. This is nice but if you hold the phone in portrait upside down (with the home button on top and earpiece on the bottom) the screen will flip. The iPad does this too. This seems like a nice idea but it turns out it something I actually never want. If I’m holding the phone on an angle (like when pulling out of my pocket) it can flip which is something I don’t want it to do. Then I have to play that game where you shake the phone to get it to go back to the way you want. I wish there was a setting to disable this.
Potential Speed Issues
Despite having more pixels to push around, I haven’t had any seen any slowness in scrolling or other screen animations. The processor on the 6 Plus is clocked a little faster than the 6 probably for this reason. But the 6 Plus does some weird things with its display that worry me that these kinds of performance problems can come with more sophisticated apps or future iOS releases.
The iPhone 6’s display is essentially the same as an iPhone 5/5s but with more pixels. The iPhone 6 Plus, due to its higher resolution, should be 2208×1242 instead of 1920×1080. That would make it easier for app developers to scale their apps. In fact, to the applications the screen does look like the 1242 resolution and iOS scales everything by a factor of 0.2 to fit in the 1080 screen. You don’t notice this because the pixel density is so high and the computer is fast enough to do the scaling in real time. Although the device has the computing horsepower for today’s apps, will that be true in a year? it two? The iPad 3 (the first iPad with a retina display) had a similar issue where the device became more sluggish with newer versions of iOS.
The iPhone 6 Plus and the iPhone 6 have the power button on the right side instead of the top right as on every other iPhone. Just about every other large screen phone has the power button in the same place because it is a long reach up to the top right. I understand that, but it still bothers me because it is placed opposite of the volume buttons. When I grip the phone, pressing either power or volume up makes press the other button too which is something I never want to do.
It pains me to say it but it appears that fragmentation has come to iOS. (I’ll wait for the Android fans to finish laughing now.) Now there are four screen sizes to support (not including non-retina iPhones) and two processor families (32 and 64 bit). There are some apps that don’t seem to work on the 6 Plus that work fine on other models. Most notable is the Google app. It opens but if I try to open the Google Now cards the app becomes very sluggish and eventually just hangs. I had to turn off Google Now to use it for searches at all. This is very weird as I don’t have this problem with the iPhone 5 running iOS 8 so there is something about the device that is different. Google even released an update that was supposedly specifically for iPhone 6 Plus compatibility but it didn’t seem to help much. I’ve heard similar stories of apps the work on some iPhones but not others. Developers are going to have to test on all models to ensure compatibility.
I always keep my iPhones in a case. The main reason is so that when I put it face down on a table the glass isn’t resting on the surface. The iPhone 6 Plus’s wide girth and curvy aluminum body makes it difficult to grip and a case is needed just to prevent dropping it.
I chose the Apple leather case. It is very thin and adds little bulk to an already bulky device. The case also keeps the camera from sticking out. The volume and power buttons are a bit hard press but I expect the more I use it the leather will soften. The bottom of the phone is left uncovered exposing the speaker, microphone, headphone, and lighting ports.
There are more heavy duty cases to prevent damage when the phone is dropped (such as OtterBox cases) but be aware they will made an already large phone much bigger. It will be harder to hold and harder to pocket.
I was happy that Apple did not give in the fallacy that more megapixels are needed for a camera to be better. More megapixels means bigger image files. Larger pictures mean I can store fewer pictures. It also means that uploading them will take longer and use up more precious cellular data. For me, I think the value for the extra storage goes down after 8MP as I don’t print anything bigger than 5×7’s.
I haven’t had a lot of time to test out the new camera features like super slow motion and auto HDR but I’m looking forward to it. My phone is my primary camera because it is the one I always have with me. iPhone 6 camera is being called the gold standard so the need to carry a point and shoot is rapidly vanishing. The only thing missing is an optical zoom, but that is not possible on a device so thin.
The camera does protrude a bit from the back. This is a concession to the thinness of the device. It seems un-Apple like, but even Apple cannot defeat physics. You shouldn’t worry about the lens getting scratched as it covered in scratch resistant Sapphire glass. Putting the camera in a case should remedy the problem of it sticking out. Just don’t do what this guy did!
Honda Bluetooth Problems
With iOS 7.1.2 on my iPhone 5 I started having Bluetooth problems with my 2013 Honda CR-V. The Bluetooth connection would randomly drop and be reconnected a few seconds later. This would interrupt playing audio through the USB connection and GPS navigation. It turns out to be a known problem in the Honda community. The workaround is to turn off wifi, which is easy to do with command center but a pain to remember every time I get in my car. I was hoping iOS 8 would solve this problem but it did not. I was also hoping the iPhone 6 would solve this problem as the hardware is different but it did not. Maybe iOS 9?
Touch ID (the fingerprint scanner on the home button) is not new to the iPhone 6 family but this is the first iPhone I owned with it so it is new to me. Overall i find it works really well. I trained it to my two thumbs and two index fingers so I can open the phone with either hand. I am already annoyed when I have to type in my PIN. iOS 8 has opened up Touch ID to third party apps so I am looking forward to not having to type passwords as often.
One gripe is that if you enable Touch ID, you have to use it or enter the PIN every time you unlock your phone. If you disable Touch ID and just require a PIN you can set it so that it only asks for the PIN after a number of minutes since the last unlock.
The iPhone 6 Plus is a great phone but it is not for everyone. It’s probably not for most people. The phone’s size means that you have to do some things differently than you would with a smaller phone and for most people that just won’t be acceptable. I totally understand that and those people should choose an iPhone 6. I would suggest that anyone considering the 6 Plus to go try one out at a Apple store, carrier store, or other retailer. It is hard to understand how big it is until you hold one in your hand.
After the first couple of days I was sure I made a big mistake and was going to return it for an iPhone 6. Then I started warming up to it. I found that changing my habits to accommodate the larger device wasn’t as big of a deal as I thought. In the pre-smartphone days I charged my phone every few days. Charging once (or more times) per day was a concession I made to using a smartphone so why couldn’t I make others for a bigger smartphone if the overall experience was better?
The bottom line is I really like using this phone. For me, seeing more information on the big screen and having ample battery life outweigh the annoyances of a large device. Earlier this week I was sure I was going to return it, but now I’m pretty sure I’m going to keep it.
I was going to title this post “iPhone 6 Plus Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Phablet” but that would have given away the ending.